A Question.... jazz/hollow-body related

Guitarchaeologist

Master Spuddler
Silver Member
Dec 17, 2016
7,699
Behind the 8 ball
This may be a silly question, but I will ask anyway.
Other than tradition (and the obvious cool look), what other reason(s) motivate jazz guitarists to gravitate to electric hollow-bodied guitars?
Using tradition as a reason almost seems counter to a jazz philosophy of pushing tradition. Stretching the norms and all often being a feature of jazz.

Hollow-bodies are more fragile & larger (meaning potentially more troublesome to transport).

Electric hollow-bodies can be played acoustically, but generally they do not sound as good acoustically as a fully acoustic hollow body, and generally have different construction than electric hollow-bodies.

Tone seems like an obvious answer that will pop up, except that it seems once electrified, the acoustic qualities would be overpowered (and potentially lost). Maybe someone can elaborate on this with counter-points.

I love hollow-bodies, and have one with P94s (they rock!), but I am not a jazz player seeking a jazz tone. So, what say you good people? Educate me.
 
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Gedster

Strat-Talker
May 11, 2021
147
NSW Australia
This may be a silly question, but I will ask anyway.
Other than tradition (and the obvious cool look), what other reason(s) motivate jazz guitarists to gravitate to electric hollow-bodied guitars? Using tradition as a reason almost seems counter to a jazz philosophy of pushing tradition. Stretching the norms and all often being a feature of jazz.

Hollow-bodies are more fragile & larger (meaning potentially more troublesome to transport).

Electric hollow-bodies can be played acoustically, but generally they do not sound as good acoustically as a fully acoustic hollow body, and generally have different construction than electric hollow-bodies.

Tone seems like an obvious answer that will pop up, except that it seems once electrified, the acoustic qualities would be overpowered (and potentially lost). Maybe someone can elaborate on this with counter-points.

I love hollow-bodies, and have one with P94s (they rock!), but I am not a jazz player seeking a jazz tone. So, what say you good people? Educate me.


I think that Acoustic Feedback was the reason once amplification became commonplace.

Django played acoustics in the 20s and 30s though, and Oscar Aleman (my favourite Swing guitarist) played steel bodied National resonators to try and be heard above the band in the pre electrified era but I think Charlie Christian (playing with Benny Goodman) changed the game once he used an electric pickup on his Gibson ES150 in the late 30s and that’s been pretty much the standard ever since.

I’m sure there a a few actual jazz officianodos out there who could fill that out more thoroughly than my fading memories.
 

Gedster

Strat-Talker
May 11, 2021
147
NSW Australia
Here’s my favourite Charlie Christian (with Benny Goodman) recording. It took a bit of searching too! It’s a live version from a record I bought about 35 years or so ago. His Rhythm playing is just wonderful and the full 1941 style, jazz power chords at about 2.15 are still just magic!



Oscar Aleman swingin his National.



And, Django. With all 2 of his fingers.



I’m not really into jazz, but those 3 artists were all part of my journey through guitar history in my younger days. I just sold my last 2, 1939 Harmony/Silvertone archtops last week. Sigh…..
 

bgmacaw

Senior Stratmaster
Dec 16, 2014
1,021
Near Athens, GA
Using tradition as a reason almost seems counter to a jazz philosophy of pushing tradition. Stretching the norms and all often being a feature of jazz.

Tradition does play a big role. There are still some experimentalist around, of course, but if you go to a jazz club you're probably going to see a very traditional looking gear. It's what's expected and what most audiences want to see.
 

Guitarchaeologist

Master Spuddler
Silver Member
Dec 17, 2016
7,699
Behind the 8 ball
I think that Acoustic Feedback was the reason once amplification became commonplace.

Django played acoustics in the 20s and 30s though, and Oscar Aleman (my favourite Swing guitarist) played steel bodied National resonators to try and be heard above the band in the pre electrified era but I think Charlie Christian (playing with Benny Goodman) changed the game once he used an electric pickup on his Gibson ES150 in the late 30s and that’s been pretty much the standard ever since.

I’m sure there a a few actual jazz officianodos out there who could fill that out more thoroughly than my fading memories.
I appreciate the responses. Good stuff.
However, they don't really address my question. I am interested in why electric hollow-bodies are the standard even now.
 

Gedster

Strat-Talker
May 11, 2021
147
NSW Australia
I appreciate the responses. Good stuff.
However, they don't really address my question. I am interested in why electric hollow-bodies are the standard even now.

Same reason I suspect. Feedback. I think the evolution of hybrid piezo/sound hole mike systems make it more doable, but even those don’t sound all that natural to me. I’m sure an Audio Engineer could enlighten us both further.
 

RadioFM74

Senior Stratmaster
Apr 5, 2016
1,747
Italy and Switzerland
I appreciate the responses. Good stuff.
However, they don't really address my question. I am interested in why electric hollow-bodies are the standard even now.

My first answer to this is "sustain", and it's a good enough reason to pick your instrument.

Of course, it has to be a qualified answer. "Jazz" is as wide as "rock", so if you take John McLaughlin ("Dawn") in the answer no longer holds… But considering more traditional styles of jazz – swing, bop – long sustain is not desirable. Listen to Barney Kessel, Wes, Jim Hall, … also Grant Green, who used a more "modern" (but still fully hollow) ES-330… all the way to Pat Metheny. Short, punchy notes are an integral, indispensable part of the sound. (… and: when Metheny wanted a different sound, capable of long notes, he went to a synth).

Back to your question: you can get a telecaster to sound great as a jazz guitar, and in many ways it will be indistinguishable in terms of timbre (there's a famous video by Tim Lerch showing this). But as a first-hand user, not just a listener: it sounds and feels very different. More brilliant and "ringing", for one thing, but that can be altered. With longer sustain – and that cannot be altered.

Of course: fantastic jazz has been recorded on solid-bodies and I am not claiming you can't do that.

Other element: there are just ergonomic preferences.

So no, it's not just for the sake of tradition or "jazz looks"…
 
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GhostJam47

Strat-O-Master
Apr 21, 2021
884
Seattle
It's tone. Classic Jazz Guitar (Grant Green, Wes Montogomery, OR like a dinner/cocktail jazz set) sound is from the sustain and tone of a hollow-body electric.

In the 50s, overdrive and compression pedals weren't a thing.

These days, lots of guys obviously solid-bodies with compression and OD to get that sustain or don't care about sustain. But now we're talking more fusion (Mclaughlin, Scofield, etc)
 

monte merrick

Most Honored Senior Member
when you play a hollowbody, you can hear the guitar in your arms as well as the amplified signal. there's so much to be said for that...

think about Freddie Green - he never amplified... those giant archtops he played (18"-19" Epiphones, Strombergs, and at last his Gretsch that he played from the 50s until his death) were loud!

but also, Leo Fender calling it a jazzmaster did not exactly entice the jazz masters into playing them hillbilly guitars did it?
 
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Kerry Brown

Senior Stratmaster
Mar 5, 2014
1,302
BC, Canada
I don’t really play jazz but I do play a hollowbody. Two reasons. It is more like an acoustic. 1) You can feel the guitar vibrating against your body. This helps me to sing in tune. 2) Nothing to do with jazz but playing a hollowbody really loud on the edge of uncontrollable feedback is way too much fun. Think Neil Young Ohio.
 

RadioFM74

Senior Stratmaster
Apr 5, 2016
1,747
Italy and Switzerland
when you play a hollowbody, you can hear the guitar in your arms as well as the amplified signal. there's so much to be said for that...

think about Freddie Green - he never amplified... those giant archtops he played (18"-19" Epiphones, Strombergs, and at last his Gretsch that he played from the 50s until his death) were loud!

but also, Leo Fender calling it a jazzmaster did not exactly entice the jazz masters into playing them hillbilly guitars did it?

Not sure we should bring Freddie Green into this… I think the OP is talking about lead jazz guitar played on an electric (or electrified) archtop.

For swing 4-to-the-bar rhythm playing anything different from a pure acoustic archtop (amplified with a simple microphone if needed) is a compromise. That's, again, another kind of beast from, say, an ES-175.
 

dirocyn

Most Honored Senior Member
Jan 20, 2018
6,797
Murfreesboro, TN
First thing, people listen with their eyes, they judge based on what they see and it takes a LOT for what they hear to overcome what they see. Suppose you're booking a gig for your band that does Chet Atkins covers--if you show the club owner your band photos and you look like KISS, you're not going to get the gig. Yeah, I suppose it's possible to do chicken pickin' on an Ibanez Iceman--but that's probably not your first choice in a country band. Or you could play heavy metal on acoustic-electrics...as long as you keep the stage volume down. But good luck getting gigs.

Second thing, people choose guitars because they want to sound and look like their idols. We're a Strat forum, that means we're a bunch of guys who want to look and sound like Strat players--like Hendrix, Clapton, Gilmour, Knopfler, Frusciante. It seems weird to us, but jazz guys want to look and sound like Charlie Christian & Wes Montgomery, Django etc.

Also, an archtop sounds different from a flat top sounds different from a soldibody electric. Yes, even amplified. The notes bloom and decay a different way. It would take a lot of work with FX to get this sound out of a strat or tele, if it's possible at all:

 

monte merrick

Most Honored Senior Member
Not sure we should bring Freddie Green into this… I think the OP is talking about lead jazz guitar played on an electric (or electrified) archtop.

For swing 4-to-the-bar rhythm playing anything different from a pure acoustic archtop (amplified with a simple microphone if needed) is a compromise. That's, again, another kind of beast from, say, an ES-175.
my point is that an archtop is an instrument already without its pickups (unlike a solid body) - it sounds and that sound is important to the player - whether an es 175 or an L5... and its too late, Freddie Green is already brought in :cool:... cant exactly kick him out. OP said nothing about single note lead playing he said jazz guitarists. Freddie certainly counts as a jazz guitarist. And his volume in the Basie setting is legendary... i mean, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. but again, my point isnt about chords versus soloing - its about the sound a hollowbody produces which is an intimate part of playing the instrument... not one a person would want to give up if they were accustomed to it...
 

RadioFM74

Senior Stratmaster
Apr 5, 2016
1,747
Italy and Switzerland
my point is that an archtop is an instrument already without its pickups (unlike a solid body) - it sounds and that sound is important to the player - whether an es 175 or an L5... and its too late, Freddie Green is already brought in :cool:... cant exactly kick him out. OP said nothing about single note lead playing he said jazz guitarists. Freddie certainly counts as a jazz guitarist. And his volume in the Basie setting is legendary... i mean, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. but again, my point isnt about chords versus soloing - its about the sound a hollowbody produces which is an intimate part of playing the instrument... not one a person would want to give up if they were accustomed to it...

You're preaching to the choir ;D I cover Freddie's duties in a big band and live for the sound of that 4/4 strum. Some of my guitar heroes, Dick McDonough in particular, are from the pre-Charlie Christian era… I agree so much with you that my jazz guitars of choice are acoustic archtops with floating DeArmond pickups so I can preserve their acoustic tone and volume while accessing a great (so I think) jazz guitar sound.

But Freddie never in his life played an electric archtop, and it seems to me that the acoustic sound of an archtop – acoustic or electric – is out of the discussion the OP wanted to start, as I think this point makes clear:

what other reason(s) motivate jazz guitarists to gravitate to electric hollow-bodied guitars?

Electric hollow-bodies can be played acoustically, but generally they do not sound as good acoustically as a fully acoustic hollow body, and generally have different construction than electric hollow-bodies.

Now, if you're arguing that because of its construction an archtop also has a different electric sound when plugged in, I'm with you. It's what I think I said in the post above.
 

fretWalkr

Strat-Talker
Apr 10, 2019
271
Dallas via Memphis
If you grew up wanting to play and sound like Wes or George Benson you'll lean towards an L5, 175D, or something along those lines. It's what gets that sound and what has the look that those jazz greats had. If you grew up wanting to sound like Slash then you play a Les Paul.

Also jazz players are usually looking for a characteristic jazz tone that you can get from a large hollow body electric. Playing one feels different with the body resonating and that also adds a woodiness to the sound. Jazz players tend to like a darker tone so humbuckers are prevalent. Jazzers typically roll of the high end to get a more focused fundamental by reducing the overtones. You have to be careful with the lowest notes on the guitar because it can use the same frequency space as the bass which muddies things up.

Funny thing is when players are at that level they will get their sound regardless of the guitar and amp they are playing. Julian Lage is a great case in point. I've heard him play archtops, Martins, Collings, but I think he sounds best when he plays the 50's tele with a small tweed amp. It really boils down to the player's personal preference.

Me playing my old Byrdland ays78d900skld.jpg
 
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dogletnoir

V----V
Nov 1, 2013
13,434
northeastern us
When it comes to 'electric hollow bodied guitars' as used by many jazz players, there are at least three different subsets actually.
You'e got your full bodied carved top models like the Gibson L-5 and L-4, which are primarily designed as acoustic instruments whether they are fitted with a pickup or not.

Next, you have your full bodied pressed top models, like the ES-175, which were meant as electric instruments right from the start, hence the Electric Spanish designation.

Finally, you have the double subset of thinline hollowbodies, some of which have center block construction like the ES-335 while others are fully hollow like the ES-330.


Even accounting for the differences in the recording environment, era, and the player's personal touch, each of these has some particular intrinsic basic tonal and sustain characteristics.


From my personal experience (i've owned a 1929 Gibson L-5, 40s L-10, a 1947 L-50 and a 1957 ES-175, an Ibanez GB-10, and currently own an Eastman El Rey I and an Epiphone Joe Pass model, and have even been fortunate enough to have been able to get to play a vintage D'Angelico Excel at one point).
Why would i choose to play an electric hollow bodied guitar on a gig or recording session?
For me, it's:
1) the sound (warm, rich, and full)
2) the feel (high quality appointments, and in any case usually quite well constructed)
3) the look (don't you feel different when wearing a classy suit as opposed to a tee shirt and jeans, no matter how nice those might be?)


Full disclosure: i've probably played more jazz gigs using a solidbody than an archtop simply for practical reasons, but at one point also took pleasure in turning up with my 80s Kramer with the full Floyd Rose system just to mess with people's minds (at that point, i only had that guitar and the 1st gen. Fender Musicmaster, which may also have been a factor, LOL), so here's some jazz played on one of my home-built Strats:

... and here's that same tune played through the same rig, but using the Epi Joe Pass:
https://soundcloud.com/frostyjr2/jsc-16-beatrice-v7-110821-1035
 
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dogletnoir

V----V
Nov 1, 2013
13,434
northeastern us
You're preaching to the choir ;D I cover Freddie's duties in a big band and live for the sound of that 4/4 strum. Some of my guitar heroes, Dick McDonough in particular, are from the pre-Charlie Christian era… I agree so much with you that my jazz guitars of choice are acoustic archtops with floating DeArmond pickups so I can preserve their acoustic tone and volume while accessing a great (so I think) jazz guitar sound.
i wish you'd post more of your music... i've enjoyed every single one you've put up!
 
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